David Gordon offers a surprisingly deep analysis of some of John Rawls’s ideas.
Perhaps classical liberalism and utilitarianism would be a good antidote to much of the far left’s current excesses (gender equity ideologues, radical feminists, racial theorists, pseudo and real Marxists). Martha Nussbaum (wikipedia) seems busy along this vein. Yet utilitariansm, as Rawls realized, has its limits:
“Some people’s interests, or even lives, can be sacrificed if doing so will maximize total satisfaction. Suppose executing the Danish cartoonists will appease a Muslim mob, and that doing so increases total satisfaction. A utilitarian would have to endorse the execution. As Rawls says, “there is a sense in which classical utilitarianism fails to take seriously the distinction between persons.”
On the other hand, individualism has its limits as well. According to Rawls there still has to be some common ground which we all share…
“Rawls thinks that everyone, regardless of his plan of life or conception of the good, will want certain “primary goods.” These include rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth, and self-respect.”
So how do you define these “primary goods?’ and balance both equality and individualism? Rawls offers his difference principle (there should be no differences except those that can be justified on grounds of efficiency), as well as his idea of public reason . Gordon isn’t too impressed:
“[public reason]…consists of principles that everyone, regardless of his conception of the good, will have cause to accept.”
“His final position was that you could mention your private views as long as you also had an argument from public reason to support your stand.”
We are all familiar with the idea that there are common public ideas that we have to accept, or at least pay heed to. Yet, Gordon seems to ask: Do we want a theory like this one to be the arbiter of those ideas?